Disclaimer: This is a blog article that I recently wrote for the Geneva (Illinois) History Museum’s website. For any other devotees of local history, I’m sure you have similar stories of cherished sites that are badly in need of restoration. Feel free to share them here!
I’m sure that I’m not alone in believing that on a beautiful spring day, there is nothing finer than taking a leisurely stroll through Geneva; to go window shopping on State Street, to wander along the Fox River, then heading over to Graham’s for some ice cream. As for me, a lover of all things historical, the city provides a wealth of locations to visit. Geneva’s commitment to preserving its past is just one of the things that make me feel so at home here. However, there is one place that seems to get lost in the shuffle, at least in my mind.
Residing just a few blocks away, I often find myself drawn to the West Side Cemetery located on Stevens Street (Yes, I’m one of those who like visiting old graveyards-you would probably hate taking vacations with me!). As the city’s first designated burial ground, there are many old and familiar surnames represented in this cemetery, including the founders of Geneva. More than a few military men from a number of wars have made West Side their final resting place. This is testified by the small flags that are dutifully placed each year by members of the American Legion. The cemetery has also been the backdrop for many a Decoration/Memorial Day and Fourth of July celebrations.
Despite its importance to Geneva history, the West Side Cemetery has been growing more and more dilapidated with each passing year. Through weather, time, and/or vandalism, many of the grave markers have fallen over, been broken, or have disappeared altogether. Until they were recently cut down, one of the stones was actually being slowly gobbled up by a pair of trees (true story).
Can this cemetery be restored? I contacted Geneva’s Public Works Department to find out. I was put in touch with Chris who is the Superintendent of Streets. I was informed that the state of the plots and their markers were the responsibility of the families. As for the City, the budget for cemetery maintenance is only big enough for lawn mowing and fall leaf removal. Can money be raised for any sort of restoration? Can family members be contacted? I hope to look into these questions further. Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems a shame to leave this historically significant cemetery to die.